Marketing: Opportunity vs. Insensitivity

The nation watched as Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in the Northeast and impacted our cultural, economic, and media capitol, New York City. The effects of Sandy on businesses and individuals are still being tallied, but early evaluation of the marketing response was generally positive. Examples of businesses demonstrating sensitivity to the plight of their customers have been acknowledged such as banks waiving fees and companies including Allstate, American Express, Delta, and Jet Blue have been commended for the ways in which they have reached out to customers and the affected areas.

At the same time, there have been brands that not only failed to seize the opportunity to demonstrate genuine concern for customers and others, but they decided Hurricane Sandy provided a tie-in for an impromptu promotion. American Apparel was skewered on social media for its ill-timed email marketing promotion touting a “Sandy Sale”that offered free shipping as an incentive to shop “in case you’re bored at home.”

While American Apparel surely meant no offense (at least one would hope a business would not go out of its way to use marketing resources to offend people), the unintended consequence of a Sandy Sale was creating perceptions that the company was insensitive to the implications of the storm and generally oblivious to the world around them. American Apparel’s CEO defended the tactic, touting that it generated tens of thousands of dollars in sales. And, he said criticism of the promotion was limited to about 25 bloggers who were responsible for stirring the masses.

I cringed at American Apparel’s promotion because it made me think of a blog post I wrote in 2010 (see “Make Any Occasion a Selling Opportunity”). In that piece, it was implied that selling opportunities are created within the boundaries of good taste and common sense. But, as I often remind my students, marketers do not always stay within those boundaries. I look forward to seeing what American Apparel will do to help with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Hopefully, it will be a better strategic fit with socially responsible business practices than its Sandy Sale.

Marketing Daily – “Most Marketers Lauded for Reactions to Sandy”